by Nathan Boddy
The residents at Sapphire Lutheran Homes enjoyed the visitation of two miniature horses on Wednesday, May 18th, thanks to coordination between Sapphire’s Director of Community Life, Dominic Farrenkopf, and the Wings Programs. Dancer and Lucy, the mother/daughter pair, were a hit and clearly stirred the emotions of residents who came outside in the light rain to see the pair.
Debora Lay, who founded the equine rescue/sanctuary and serves as its Executive Director, explains that bringing the horses for a visit at Sapphire is just one of the outreach services that the Wings Programs provides within the valley. The non-profit is also a certified equine therapy provider, and participates in learning and veterans’ programs. A primary component of their work, however, is the long-term sanctuary for horses that may have no other place to go.
“We have an aging agricultural population in the valley, and as the senior farmers and ranchers move on in life, they are leaving behind their domestic livestock,” explains Lay. “Often, the next generation isn’t really interested in farming the land or working the land, so they want to sell off the land.” This ongoing change in the nature of land ownership within the Bitterroot Valley often means that horses may have no place to go.
“We are servicing senior residents as much as we are livestock,” says Lay.
Lay tells the story of a recent addition to the livestock cared for by Wings, that of a 35 year old horse whose owner had sold his land holdings in order to pay for his aging wife’s long term assisted care. As Lay points out, a 35 year old horse is equivalent to a 100 year old person.
“He didn’t live terribly long,” she says, but adds that the horse was able to die naturally.
The non-profit serves only the Bitterroot Valley, and is funded through donations and the commercial equine boarding service, Layz D Equine Services. According to Lay, it is the only animal rescue/sanctuary in Montana certified by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an internationally recognized organization that bestows accreditation on those organizations that meet their standards. But despite a globally recognized rating, Lay points out that it is their connections to the needs of the Bitterroot Valley that are most important.
“We rely on the community,” she says, “and on donations to exist.”
That connection with the community is exactly what Lay and Farrenkopf had in mind when they came up with the idea of bringing the horses to Sapphire Homes several years ago. The event was a way that Wings could “give back to the community that serves us,” said Lay.